Whenever the Broncos are on a hot streak and a crunch game at Lang Park is looming, phrases like “the Suncorp factor” are thrown around like the balls in Freddy’s pass-off.
Like the balls on the frenetic 30-second segment on Nine’s NRL Sunday Footy Show, named after Roosters legend Brad Fittler, mentions of “the Suncorp cauldron” ping around everywhere.
To that point, Panthers chief executive Brian Fletcher laid bare a disparity hanging over the NRL finals, pointing out that while Brisbane will have the luxury of playing a preliminary final at Suncorp Stadium this week, Penrith will be forced to play its own preliminary final at Accor Stadium instead of the club’s home venue, BlueBet Stadium.
Fletcher told News Corp that the NRL had given the Broncos an “unfair” advantage.
Broncos great Darren Lockyer, who’s now a club director, admitted there was truth in the issue the Panthers boss raised.
“Yes, I mean there’s no doubt the Broncos get an advantage playing at Suncorp … It is a huge advantage,” Lockyer said on Wide World of Sports’ QLDER.
“We look at what Suncorp does for a Queensland team and I’ve got no doubt the performance they had against the Storm [their 26-0 win in the qualifying finals this year], the Broncos, a lot of credit would go to the atmosphere in the crowd.
“I think there’s a legitimate argument there.
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“It is a commercial decision. When the finals start the NRL takes over and effectively you’ve got 50,000 at Suncorp as opposed to [25,000 at BlueBlue Stadium] … It’s not the Broncos’ fault; it’s a commercial decision that the NRL’s made. They think they can fit more bums on seats at Accor Stadium.”
Taking on an electric Broncos outfit at Suncorp Stadium is a colossal task now awaiting the Warriors, who will feature in their first preliminary final since 2011 when they run out in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The significance of home-ground advantage was palpable across the Knights’ two finals appearances this year.
One week, Kalyn Ponga and his teammates played in front of a heaving sellout crowd in Newcastle, and so wild was the 29,000-stong crowd that Knights legend Andrew Johns said the scenes topped anything he’d ever seen at the venue. The Knights pipped the Raiders in an epic elimination final, remaining alive with a 30-28 triumph.
The following week, crowd support was stacked against the Knights overwhelmingly as they met the Warriors in Auckland. A 26,000-strong crowd crammed into the venue as the Shaun Johnson-led surprise packet charged to a 40-10 win, marking the club’s first home finals appearance since 2008 in phenomenal style.
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Lockyer gave an ominous assessment on QLDER, saying the Broncos would take a 10-point advantage into the Warriors clash because of the Suncorp Stadium furnace.
Broncos icon Wally Lewis backed the words of Lockyer on QLDER, underscoring the massive role the crowd played in the Broncos’ qualifying final win over the Storm.
“I agree with Locky — the crowd played an enormous role in that last game. I haven’t seen Melbourne blown away like that for a long, long time,” Lewis said.
“But I just didn’t give them any hope at the start of the week.
“That didn’t change throughout the course of the game, that was a wonderful performance from the Broncos, that’s as well as I’ve seen them play for at least 12 moths.”